Saturday morning. I woke up, looked around and after a few moments of wondering where I was at, I realized I was home. Immediately after, my mind raced back to last weekend, “what time is it?...oh yes, I was getting ready to teach the kids about Perdon.” I’ll share with you about that on the next post.
Since I’ve been back from our Nicaragua trip my mind has been busy remembering what has taken place in the last 12 days. What a combination of feelings and experiences. Today I share with you about days 3 & 4.
Sunday night we said our goodbyes to my Tia Zenelia and the other family and new friends we made in Matagalpa. It was now time to head towards Leon, my city of birth. I was looking forward to this part of the trip…a lot. We drove late at night, didn’t get to our hotel till around 1am and that was mainly because we couldn't find the place. See, addresses in Nicaragua are not the same as the ones in America. A Nicaraguan address goes something like this: From Pharmacy Sebastian, 1 street up, 7 feet to the south. And since in Nicaragua rarely will you find a street sign, sometimes it makes it very difficult to find your way around in a car. This is why we were glad cousin Hector decided to travel with us to Leon. Phew!
Our hotel was a wonderful gem! Its owners, Benjamin and Sandrine, are one of the nicest and best hosts I’ve ever met. They are French and moved to Nicaragua to start this 8 bedroom hotel. Needless to say, the customer service is exceptional and the food...Oh! the food. The free breakfast included some Nicaraguan cuisine such as gallo pinto, plantains with quesillo (cheese), tons of local fresh fruit and smoothies as well as French delicacies such as the crepes and butter and chocolate pound cakes prepared by our owner that morning. This was just icing on the cake to my Leon experience.
Monday morning, after stuffing our faces with delicious food, we headed out to discover the town. Leon is known for its many Cathedrals, churches and colonial structures. It is also a ‘university’ city so you will find a lot of young people around the city. It’s a city full of life and color. Its colonial homes are characterized by the opened courtyards in the middle of them. They are absolutely quaint.
My eyes didn’t know where to look first. So much I wanted to take in, not wanting to miss anything. As I observed people, cars, businesses, homes, schools, motorcycles, cathedrals I wondered what my life would have been like if I would have stayed in Nicaragua. Would I have been like that group of kids walking down the street with their uniforms and backpacks coming from school, laughing and eating a cut up mango in a bag? Would I have been happy? They looked happy, very happy, happier than some of the kids in the USA.
I will never know what my life would have been like if I would have been raised in Nicaragua but going back to Leon gave me a sense of purpose. A much greater purpose than I knew I had.
Being in Leon gave me a view into my past and the potential I have today because of it.
One of the stops was to a church called Betel. This is the church where my mom and dad were pastors when I was born. The place where people were gathered and praying while mom was giving birth to me.
The church was closed when we arrived but one of the members was able to open it for us so we could take a look around. The lady told us that the stage was bigger now because they had used the space where the pastor’s home once stood. She pointed to the lines on the floor that show where the house ended and it hit me! This is where my mom would nurse me as a baby. This place where I’m standing was where my mom would soothe me at night, change my diapers. This was the place of my very beginnings. I don’t have any photos of me as a baby because when we moved from Nicaragua we left all of our possessions, including photos, at one of Tia Zenelia's home but during the war the home got burnt and we lost it all. Sooooo….needless to say, the photographs I was recording at this very moment in my mind and in my camera were priceless.
I stood in the middle of the church, looking towards the stage and I tried to imagine my dad preaching his heart out. I decided to call home and talk to mom and dad while standing there. What a moment. Dad began to cry and I was reminded once again how special this place was. See, when my parents came to be pastors of Betel there was no one left. The first Sunday my dad was to start at the church, he opened the doors and started the service. In attendance? My mom and the kids. No.one.else. My mom says dad preached his heart out. He preached as if the church was full. Years later, after loving and serving this place, they moved and the church was no longer empty. On the contrary, it was packed.
I stood there for a while, silent, just looking around, remembering the stories I've heard mom and dad tell me about Betel. Like that one night when a group of college students who were protesting against the communists ran inside the church looking for protection. Dad let them in and closed the church doors. In order to get the protesters out of the church the communists decided to start throwing tear gas through the wholes in the windows (see picture below). Everyone rushed to the bathrooms to splash water in their eyes, using any water available, even toilet water. Dad says it was quite a night. I can imagine.
And then there were those days while in Betel when mom would find herself at times with only one mango and one cup of milk to feed all the kids and suddenly and unexpectedly someone would come along with bags of groceries to give her because they felt God had placed it in their hearts to give us the food.
These are but a couple of the many, many stories I could tell you from my family’s history in Betel. In this place I found some of the roots of faithfulness and love for this thing called the church that has been passed down through the generations in our family. And it was while standing there that I understood better this purpose that has been placed within me.
But, can I be transparent with you for a moment? Truth is, I never wanted to do this church business stuff. Never did I want to become a pastor…specially a pastor’s wife. I knew how hard it was. I had seen my own parents and friends go through the trials, the ups and downs, the good, the bad and the ugly of being leaders at a church.
And though loving the church does come with a lot of wonderful experiences and beautiful, rewarding blessings it was the messy, yucky stuff that scared me!
I knew what it would entail. I didn't want to partake in the role of being a pastor because when you become one you have to face the expectations others place on you. See, in this thing we call ministry, it is you, one human being, at the mercy of the expectations and preconceived ideas of various individuals. They know you’re not perfect, they don’t expect you to be, but they would prefer you to fit into their idea of who you are ‘supposed’ to be as a leader. You often get criticized for what you DIDN'T do as well as for what you DID do that should have been done differently. Some may get upset with you because you don't call them enough, or because you didn't notice them while you were grocery shopping, or because you didn't give them a position in the church they felt they deserved. Some may leave your church because you didn't help them enough, others because you are not old enough, or young enough, 'spiritual' enough, charismatic enough or serious enough. And the list goes on.
Yeah, I didn't want any part of that. But there was one problem...I knew I was meant to attend to it not because my parents and their parents did but because along the way, God carefully planted a seed in my heart to love IT.
But as much as I believed in the church I wanted to love it from afar.
My ideal would have been to just attend church, be involved in it and maybe even be one of their best volunteers but NEVER to be one of its leaders. But He got me…God invited me to serve it and to love it. Reluctantly, I accepted the invitation and I'm glad I did.
Now, I'll be honest, many days, specially Saturday nights, I feel the most inadequate person to complete the task ahead. Many Sundays after church, I feel as if I've failed, as if I am not cutout nor meant to fulfill this huge 'task’. But as I stood in the middle of Betel I understood that what I do today has not only great purpose but that it is MY purpose to live out. And while standing in Betel it became even more real. I had to fight the tears from running down my cheeks, I had to hold it together and not lose it and start sobbing like a baby. In that moment, my past collided with my present and it all made sense. It all fell into place. And what a beautiful coalition it was.
I should be wrapping up but as I type on purpose I can only think of those kids we met at Campo Alegria. Little lives with a whole future ahead of them. Specially, that little boy, Hugo. An encounter with a kid with a sweet smile that could have eternal consequences. A boy that could one day be the one who will impact and change his community. Let me tell you about him…in my next post that is.
A look around Leon, Nicaragua
Last dinner in Leon was at the beach!
Last Morning...must we go?
And one last pic. This may not have any significance to you but one of the fruits I remember from Nicaragua was Mamones. Oh the joy I felt the moment I spot them in the market and the moment I placed one of these deliciousness in my mouth. One of the few memories I have of Nicaragua and it involves food....SHOCKER! :)